Pushing Logistics Data to the outer edges of the Oil and Gas Industry

26 October 2009

With the advent of broadband and low cost internet connections, businesses have never had it so good in pulling operational data from disparate assets and offices into a central computerised management system. But what about the final step in pushing data to the guys on the ground or on the jack-up or FPSO with mobile Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) and ruggedised handheld computers?

Traditionally, the oil and gas industry has always been a tough environment for IT equipment, with higher demands for specifications than most other businesses. Computer manufacturers have now stepped up to the mark and produced handheld computers which are Intrinsically Safe (IS) for use in Zone 1 and Zone 0 hazardous areas.

This allows the exciting possibility of pushing corporate process data out to the very edges of a business – to the remote staff who work on the front line dealing with customers.

In terms of logistics and supply, drivers for oil services companies have always had to come to a depot at the start of a shift to pick up collection/drop-off worksheets, and return at the end of a shift to leave the pile of hand-scribbled paper with the administration staff – assuming said paper hadn't blown away or got lost under the passenger seat. If there were any last minute changes throughout the day, then the driver had no paperwork to back up whatever he was asked to do, leading to confusion for the driver and Depot, and poorer service to the customer.

Companies lost income through lost paperwork. No Proof of Delivery (P.O.D.) = no invoice = lost income. Therefore, it makes sense to give drivers as much information as they need to complete their tasks, to provide a better, more coherent service to customers.

With mobile phones, PDAs and ruggedised handheld computers all, in essence, being small computers with internet access over GPRS and 3G, we have all the tools right now that we need to push information out to the permanently remote workforce. We can allow them to interact with the same operations data in the field as in the depots and head office.

In the simplest case, this can be giving drivers access to a company website (suitably firewalled and secure, of course) from the browser on their phone. They can check jobs to do, perhaps key in information about jobs done.

But what if the driver goes out of mobile coverage if he is taking delivery from, say, a yard in Aberdeen to an oil services company in Great Yarmouth? Software development kits are available for all the major phone/PDA platforms allowing bespoke applications with local database storage to be written. This means an application can download information when in mobile coverage and store it in a database on the handheld. Should the driver go out of mobile coverage, he can continue to interact with the application and data, and changes get uploaded once the device is back in coverage.

Similar technologies have been deployed by Aberdeen based AFS Technologies for their traxISTM surveying handheld system. Written by Valley Technology, the software allows AFS Technologies staff to visit an asset to survey equipment. The survey report is keyed into drop-down forms on the hand-held and transmitted back to head office over the internet. The asset owner can then quickly turn around decisions on whether to proceed with repairs, thus shaving weeks off the usual repair cycle.

AFS Technologies Managing Director, Gerry Farrell comments: “The software allows us to provide a very responsive service to our customers. Having information back to us within minutes of a survey completion means our customer has the data at their fingertips very quickly, allowing decisions about repairs to be taken while our staff are still onboard the asset. Repairs would normally require a second trip to the asset, with all the expense that entails, but now we can survey and repair in a single trip”.

Looking to the future, mobile phone companies have rushed past 3G to build High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) networks, which give broadband-like download speeds. High Speed Uplink Access (HSUPA) will allow mobile workers to upload large data files from their mobile phones much faster.

But right now, you can have all of your employees, right out to the edge of your oil services business, updating and sharing information from the one operations system providing improved services to your customers.


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